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Education

Coronavirus Plans For Schools In Kansas And Missouri Include 'Teleschool,' Decontamination System

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Courtesy of Belton School District
The Pirate Primary Care clinic opened in the Belton School District late last year. School clinics could get overwhelmed if a coronavirus outbreak reaches Missouri and Kansas.

Kansas and Missouri are at low risk for the coronavirus, but schools in the Kansas City metro are having “robust conversations” about how to protect students in case an outbreak occurs in the U.S. 

Their solutions include teleschool, a way to disinfect a whole classroom at a time and the old standby: If you’re sick, stay home.

“We have policies and procedures in place to prevent the spread of illnesses and viruses,” Lee’s Summit R-7 School District spokeswoman Katy Bergen wrote in an email. “While there are no reported cases of coronavirus in Missouri at this time, we will continue to take a proactive and preventative approach as we progress through the cold and flu season.”

Earlier this week, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned that when COVID-19 shows up in the U.S., it will cause “substantial disruption” to everyday life, and that Americans should be prepared for schools and workplaces to close.

COVID-19 is a respiratory illness that first appeared in Wuhan, China, late last year. It’s a close cousin to the SARS and MERS viruses that have caused previous outbreaks. There have been 14 reported cases in the U.S.

K-12 schools and universities in Missouri and Kansas are already communicating with state and local health departments about what to do in the case of an outbreak. 

North Kansas City Schools plans to purchase a whole room/building decontamination system to kill viruses and germs on contact, according to a memo from Director of Student Services Janelle Porter that was posted on the district’s website.

“Due to the high rate of influenza this season in our schools, precautions are currently being taken to prevent the spread of influenza including communicating with staff and parents of students who attend schools with high rates of influenza as well as providing recommendation on how to control the spread of illness and what to do when you are sick,” Porter wrote.

The district is also exploring the possibility of using one-to-one devices to conduct “teleschool,” as well as working on internet access for students who do not have WiFi at home. 

Several local districts are already experimenting with online classroom technology as a way to deliver instruction on inclement weather days.

Northwest Missouri State University is thinking about revising its initial plan for students and faculty who might be traveling or studying abroad.

“If it hits closer to home, we need to be thinking about residential housing, how we’re going to handle that,” said Jerry Wilmes, the school’s medical director. There are about 2,500 students in the dorms on the Maryville campus. 

Earlier this month, the University of Kansas issued a campus notice after a person suspected of possibly having the coronavirus was briefly quarantined at nearby Lawrence Memorial Hospital. 

That person tested negative for the disease, but KU urged students and faculty who had recently traveled to China, and who also may have been showing sypmtoms of fever, to stay home and call their health care provider. 

A KU spokesperson said the university continues to work with Kansas state health officials to monitor the potential spread of the virus. 

Also in Kansas, Olathe Public Schools shared CDC guidance on containing communicable diseases, asking families to do their part.

“Teaching the foundations of healthy habits in the home, self-reporting illness, and keeping sick individuals home are important elements in the success of containing communicable diseases within a community,” according to the district’s website.

But on the whole, districts aren’t fielding many calls about COVID-19.

“In the Ray-Pec School District, we have not received calls/inquiries from parents — yet,” spokeswoman Michele Stidham said in an email.

KCUR contributor Bill Grady contributed to this report. Elle Moxley covers education for KCUR. You can reach her on Twitter @ellemoxley.